Hillicon Valley: Biden: US taking 'urgent' steps to improve cybersecurity | Democrat warns tech companies to 'step up' or risk Section 230 changes | California court rejects suit challenging state's new rules for gig workers

Hillicon Valley: Biden: US taking 'urgent' steps to improve cybersecurity | Democrat warns tech companies to 'step up' or risk Section 230 changes | California court rejects suit challenging state's new rules for gig workers
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Welcome! Follow our cyber reporter, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and tech team, Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills) and Rebecca Klar (@rebeccaklar_), for more coverage.

BIDEN TEASES CYBER INITIATIVE: President Biden said Thursday that his administration is launching an “urgent initiative” to improve the nation’s cybersecurity, pointing to concerns involving both Russia and China. 


“We’ve elevated the status of cyber issues within our government,” Biden said as part of a national security speech at the State Department. “We are launching an urgent initiative to improve our capability, readiness and resilience in cyberspace.”

Biden stressed that he planned to push back against Russian malign efforts in particular, including election interference and cyberattacks, emphasizing that “the days of the United States rolling over in the face of aggressive actions...are over.”

Read more about Biden’s comments here. 


‘STEP UP’ OR SECTION 230 IS OUT: House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon Thompson10 Democrats join NAACP lawsuit against Trump Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions Lawmakers roll out bill to protect critical infrastructure after Florida water hack MORE (D-Miss.) warned tech companies on Thursday to ramp up content moderation or risk changes to Section 230. 

Thompson said during a hearing on the threat of domestic terrorism that there appears to be bipartisan support to look at reforming the landmark law that provides companies a legal liability shield over content posted on their platforms by third parties. 

“So for those companies that might be listening to this hearing, it’s absolutely essential that they step up in a big way, because obviously from a question and responses there's interest on the right and left — Democrat and Republican — that we have to look at it. And I assure you as chair we will,” he said. 


Read more here


REJECTED: The California Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit brought by a group of ride-haling app drivers and labor unions looking to overturn Proposition 22. 

The ballot measure, approved by voters in November, gives drivers for the app-based companies status as independent contractors, making them ineligible for benefits. The lawsuit alleged the proposition was unconstitutional and put illegal constraints on the ability of state lawmakers to empower drivers to organize. 

The state can still be filed in a lower court and one of the drivers who brought the case said the group plans to keep pushing forward in their battle to overturn the controversial ballot measure. 

Read more here


KLOBUCHAR’S AMBITIOUS ANTITRUST BILL: Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after pushback from Klobuchar, Lee Lobbying world MORE (D-Minn.) unveiled an ambitious bill Thursday aimed at strengthening competition laws and revamping antitrust enforcement.

The Competition and Antitrust Law Enforcement Reform Act combines a bevy of existing proposals into one omnibus bill that lays out Democrats’ strategy for tackling monopolization across the economy.

The first proposal of the lengthy legislation is focused on making anticompetitive mergers more difficult by amending the Clayton Act.

Read more here


SPEAKING OF ANTITRUST: A coalition of independent business associations is urging President Biden against appointing individuals with ties to the four biggest tech companies to top antitrust enforcement roles at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The associations, representing more than 60,000 independent businesses, sent a letter to the president on Wednesday calling for him to appoint individuals that will “prioritize reinvigorating anti-monopoly policy,” according to a copy of the letter exclusively shared with The Hill. 


Read more about the business group’s letter here

The push is not only coming from progressives. 

Republican Rep. Beth Van Duyne (Texas) is joining a previously uniformly progressive push to keep a former Big Tech adviser out of one of the top antitrust roles in the Biden administration.

The first-year lawmaker wrote a letter to the president urging him against appointing Renata Hesse to head the Justice Department’s antitrust division Thursday on the heels of reports that she is a front-runner for the position.

Read more about Duyne’s letter here


IBM TAKES ACTION: IBM on Thursday announced a $3 million grant program that is expected to go toward protecting K-12 schools against ransomware and other cyberattacks, which have increased significantly as classes moved to online instruction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


The grant program will be awarded to six public school districts across the U.S., with each district getting $500,000. School districts have until March 1 to apply for the grants. Six to 10 IBM volunteers will be deployed to each of the winning districts to help implement cybersecurity initiatives.

Read more about the program here. 


FOX NEWS IN HOT WATER: Voting technology company Smartmatic filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against attorneys Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGaetz hires legal counsel amid DOJ probe Georgia lieutenant governor: Giuliani election claims helped lead to new voting law Rep. Lee Zeldin announces bid for New York governor MORE and Sidney Powell, as well as Fox News and some of the network's hosts, accusing them of grievously harming the company by claiming it was involved in widespread election fraud.

The firm accused Giuliani and Powell, close allies of former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to move ahead with billion UAE weapons sale approved by Trump Fox News hires high-profile defense team in Dominion defamation lawsuit Associate indicted in Gaetz scandal cooperating with DOJ: report MORE, of creating "a story about Smartmatic” and said the Fox Corporation, Fox News and the anchors Lou DobbsLouis (Lou) Carl DobbsDominion lawyer: We haven't ruled out suing Trump, other media outlets What to know about Dominion's legal fight with Fox News Bartiromo to host 'Fox News Primetime' next week MORE, Maria BartiromoMaria Sara BartiromoDominion lawyer: We haven't ruled out suing Trump, other media outlets What to know about Dominion's legal fight with Fox News Trump on possible Meghan 2024 presidential bid: 'I hope that happens' MORE and Jeanine Pirro joined “the conspiracy to defame and disparage Smartmatic and its election technology and software.”   

Read more about the lawsuit here. 



GAINING GROUND: A pro-China network that uses social media platforms and fake accounts to spread Chinese propaganda is starting to gain traction online. 

Graphika did a report on the network, nicknamed “Spamouflage.” The goal of the network is to demonize the U.S. and Hong Kong pro-Democracy movements while promoting China.

Read more here. 


BRACING FOR CAPITOL HILL: Stock-trading app Robinhood is scrambling to respond to bipartisan backlash over its decision to block users from buying shares of GameStop and other quickly rising stocks fueled by a popular Reddit forum.

Robinhood’s lobbying skills and Washington knowledge will now be put to the test as the company faces two bruising hearings and the potential for regulatory changes that could upend its business model.

Read more here


BOOTED: Parler CEO John Matze said he had been dismissed by the board of the social media platform in a memo first obtained by Fox News.

"On January 29, 2021, the Parler board controlled by Rebekah Mercer decided to immediately terminate my position as CEO of Parler. I did not participate in this decision," Matze wrote, according to the network. "I understand that those who now control the company have made some communications to employees and other third parties that have unfortunately created confusion and prompted me to make this public statement."

Mercer, an heiress to a hedge fund fortune known for donations to right-wing causes, has also been a benefactor to Breitbart and its former chairman Steve BannonStephen (Steve) Kevin BannonTrump denies Gaetz asked him for blanket pardon Both the left and the right discriminate against Asian Americans Hillicon Valley: John Matze takes on Parler | Prince Harry heads to Silicon Valley | YouTube leaves up Boulder shooting video MORE, a former Trump White House adviser.

Read more here

Lighter click: Not before our second coffee

An op-ed to chew on: Finally, a Republican leader declares war on Big Tech


Instagram Bans Hundreds of Accounts With Stolen User Names (The New York Times / Taylor Lorenz) 

Google Explores Alternative to Apple’s New Anti-Tracking Feature (Bloomberg / Mark Gurman and Nico Grant) 

'This Whole Thing Has Numbed Me to Money': GameStop Investors After the Crash (Motherboard / Patrick Klepek)